Stories of the Land: Honoring a Grandmother's Legacy

Adrienne Brown wakes up every morning in the 400-square-foot cabin her father built in 1971 when he was in high school. Its weathered walls sit amongst the trees on the farmstead of her late grandmother, Frieda Brown, in Pisgah Forest.

“The property is a shadow of what it was when I was younger and my grandmother was looking after it fulltime,” shares Adrienne. “The barns and sheds that the horses used to call home need repair, but when I look at them I don’t see that. I see them for what they were when I was younger. Walking around the property now, there’s an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for those days, but the nature that existed back then still remains. The hemlocks are still surprisingly healthy, and I truly think sometimes that my grandmother’s spirit continues in those trees.”

A small stream still trickles between two laurel banks where Adrienne would wander as a young girl. “If you look for it you can even find a tiny waterfall no more than two feet high. It was a secluded spot where I used to go when I wanted to be alone in nature as a child.”

Frieda spent the majority of her time outside, working around the farm, caring for her horses and managing a half-acre vegetable garden on her own until she was 85.

“The first image of her that comes to my mind is from atop a tractor where she would happily cruise along cutting grass,” says Adrienne.

The tiny cabin on the property offered respite after a hard day’s work, a place to wind down and relax. Adrienne recalls sitting next to her grandmother with her younger brother sprawled across their laps, while her grandmother read from her own novel, Last Hurdle, to curious minds. Frieda’s fictional story about living on an old farmstead with a horse is nearly autobiographical.

The beauty of the mountains drew Frieda to the area, but she loved the location of the farm for its seclusion and its space where her animals could roam. She worked with local land trust, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC), to permanently conserve the property in 2004.  

“Mom always had sort of a ‘hate/hate’ relationship with subdivisions,” says Adrienne’s father Doug Brown, with a smile. “She wanted the place to be a haven for wildlife and not fall into the hands of developers.”

Doug reflects on the changes he has witnessed in the 41 years coming to the area. An old southern town transformed into an art and recreation tourist destination. “I remember drinking coffee at the lunch counter of what is now O.P. Taylors, to shopping there for toys with my two young children,” says Doug. “All these generations called this place home—my grandparents, great aunt, parents, and now, my own family.”

Adrienne feels like she is adding on to her family legacy. “For my father it was a place to live while he was getting his feet under him during and after college,” says Adrienne. “Now, I am doing the same. Even if it falls into disrepair again, the cabin will continue to be here, the land will continue to be here. I will always have this to fall back on.”

Currently, the cabin is in its most modern state, but the experience of rural living lingers. There is no cell phone service. Clean laundry is lugged up the path with the hopes that a sock or pair of pants does not fall too far behind.

“Having to throw your pajamas on the heater before jumping in the shower, because the only heat source comes from two electric heaters…” Adrienne says, with a laugh. “These are some experiences that I now relate to and share with my father.”

Frieda passed her love of nature down from Doug to Adrienne. “It was engrained in everything she did. She had a hatred for plastic bags before it was a movement,” Adrienne says, with a chuckle. “She always recycled and composted. Being able to visit her in the summer and stay in the cabin played a very direct roll in my love of nature and desire to pursue Environmental Studies in college.”

A recent graduate of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Adrienne returned to her grandmother’s land to join CMLC’s AmeriCorps Project Conserve program as Community Outreach & Education Associate.

Inspired by her grandmother’s own service with the American Red Cross during World War II, Adrienne serves with AmeriCorps Project Conserve as a way to thank her grandmother for conserving her land. “She left my father, and eventually my brother and I, this amazing gift and I did nothing to earn it,” says Adrienne. “I wanted to give back to her by honoring her memory.”

CMLC started AmeriCorps Project Conserve in 2004 in response to growing conservation needs in Western North Carolina. Each year, AmeriCorps Project Conserve places more than three dozen dedicated members with local environmental nonprofits. Since its inception, 268 members have served more than 455,600 hours, increasing community understanding of conservation and the environment and creating sustainable improvements to at-risk ecosystems in our communities.

AmeriCorps Project Conserve provides young adults like Adrienne with valuable experience out of college. The program sets them up for success moving forward with the skills they need to land a job pursuing their goals and dreams in the environmental field and beyond.

“There has been a significant increase of requirements for entry level work in our world and it can be really hard to get work right out of college,” admits Adrienne. “AmeriCorps Project Conserve helps to bridge that gap in experience many college graduates face. It’s chock-full of professional development opportunities and the education award helps many who struggle with student debt. From hiking with kids outside to improving the water we drink, we make a direct impact on the communities we work with.”

Adrienne feels fulfilled to help preserve and protect the mountains her grandmother so dearly loved. “She moved a lot as a young person, something she and I have in common, and I can respect her wishes to have a peaceful resting place,” says Adrienne. “I’m giving back to an area we both eventually came to call home.”

Doug is proud of Adrienne’s passion for service. “I think it is terrific that Adrienne is participating in AmeriCorps Project Conserve as an ode to her grandmother,” shares Doug.  “I think Mom would have gotten a kick out of it.”

Please download the current version of Internet Explorer. IE 6 is no longer supported.